Friday, March 28, 2008


Santa Susana Field Station

There have been numerous meetings at which concerned citizens have haranged the Boeing Company, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Department of Energy, and various California State agencies about the pollution at the Santa Susana Field Station. This test area was operated for years by North American Aviation. The Rocketdyne Division tested jet propulsion engines there. The Atomics International Division tested experimental nuclear reactors there. Each division had its own area of the Field Station in which to carry out its tests.

When the site was chosen for the work, it was a remote area of Los Angeles County. Nobody lived anywhere near the site. However, as Rocketdyne and Atomics International grew and hired thousands of workers, people moved into the general area around their plants. The Field Station was on the top of a hill and the surrounding hill-side area was a desirable location for homes with views.

Testing at the site started about 1950 and continued until the mid 1990's. The site is no longer used for testing and the successor firm to North American Aviation, the Boeing Corporation, wants to sell it. It would be most profitable to sell the site to developers for residential buildings. It would be less profitable to sell it to the State of California to be used for recreation. In any case, Boeing has no further use for the property and wants to get rid of it.

Unfortunately, Boeing acquired a liability when it took title to the property. The Field Station is polluted with toxic chemicals left over from the rocket engine tests and with radioactive material left over from the reactor experiments. The occasional rainfall in the area causes the toxic material to leach away and get into ground water on the Simi Valley side of the site and into little streams that drain into the Los Angeles River on the Los Angeles side. People living near the site have discovered, perhaps too late, that the site is polluted and that the pollution is spreading. I am not able to give any indication as to how serious the pollution problem is. It is sufficient to say that the residents of the area know there is a problem and are up in arms about it. They want the site cleaned up or isolated in such a way that the pollution will not spread farther. Hence, the meetings.

I have attended two of the meetings recently. It seems to me that they are an example of many meetings held to discuss a problem with nothing done to solve it. The way I see the problem is that there are two solutions, both very expensive. The first is to clean up the pollution at the site. Remove soil and other material and dispose of it in established toxic dumps and radioactive dumps. The other solution is to establish a safe boundary around the site and buy back all the homes and other property of residents living inside the boundary. A safe boundary might have a radius of five miles or more.

Either solution is hellaciously expensive. Boeing doesn't want to pay. The State doesn't want to pay. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't want to pay. The Department of Energy doesn't want to pay. Homeowners living within the "safe boundary" don't want to see the value of their homes drop to zero.

Simple, unsophisticated thinking leads one to the conclusion that the person or organization responsible for the problem should pay the cost of cleaning up or relocating the people affected. But, who is responsible? Is it the Boeing Corporation, successor to North American Aviation who operated the site for many years? Is it the planning commissions of the surrounding cities and counties who allowed builders to locate homes close to the site? Is it the builders themselves who bought the land when it was cheap and made tidy fortunes when the land was rezoned into residential lots and homes were built and sold? More sophisticated thinking leads me to suppose that all parties share some responsibility for paying the cost of correcting the situation.

My solution is as follows:
  1. Conduct the necessary surveys to determine how serious the pollution problem is.
  2. Estimate the cost of the clean-up.
  3. Estimate the cost of buying out the residents who live near the site.
  4. Decide whether to clean the place or relocate the residents.
  5. Divide the cost three ways: Boeing, the local governments responsible for the zoning, and the builders and realtors who profited from the residential construction and sales.

As you can see, I live in a dream world. Nobody is going to get a dime out of the builders and realtors. Boeing may take refuge in bankruptcy. That leaves the taxpayers in the affected governments, the State of California, the federal government, and the residents of the affected area to share the cost.


Monday, March 24, 2008


I Love my Hypocrisy

In my previous post I criticized Israelis for not being sensitive to the fact that they had stolen the land out from under the Palestinians and now are aggrieved because the Palestinians are turning to desperate, terrorist tactics to avenge their loss or to recover their territory. As an American, I have no right to put forward such criticism. Perhaps not my own direct ancestors, but the ancestors of many Americans were guilty of stealing land right out from under the Native Americans who had inhabited this continent from time immemorial before the Europeans came and claimed it.

I have read that the early English colonists in New England believed that God wanted them to have the land. The tangible evidence in favor of such a notion was that the natives died like flies from diseases that to the English were childhood diseases, in particular, measles. At the time no one understood the germ theory of disease, to say nothing of diseases caused by viruses, such as measles. A hundred years later, when people knew something about how diseases are passed from one person to another, Americans (of European descent) gave the natives blankets that had been used by small pox patients in the sure knowledge that the natives would catch the disease and succumb to it.

Perhaps the superstitious belief of the early colonists in New England can be understood and perhaps forgiven. One can not forgive those who gave small pox infected blankets to the natives to get rid of them (natives and blankets both).

Considering our own past and the ways in which we have acquired title to this section of a continent, do we have standing to criticize the people of Israel for their continuing colonization of Palestinian lands? I think not.

I think that what Americans did to eliminate most of the natives in our own country is shameful and deplorable. I think that what the Israelis are doing to do the Palestinians out of what land they have left is shameful and deplorable. The pot is calling the kettle black.



Palestinian Statehood?

The Bush administration seems to be making an effort to achieve some sort of accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the administration is careful not to "pressure" Israel into making concessions. The administration does not hesitate to pressure the Palestinians into disowning a government that was the result of free and open elections.

I can not fault the Bush administration for not trying harder to achieve peace in the Holy Land. Previous Democratic and Republican administrations did not do any better.

There seemed to be a chance after the meeting in Oslo between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, sponsored by the United States, that there would eventually be a peace agreement and a Palestinian government set up within specified borders. However, the Oslo process got off to a bad start. If the goal was to define a Palestinian State, it seems to me that the starting point should have been the establishment of the borders. With established and internationally recognized borders, Palestinian leaders could have shown their people that a country of their own was in the near future and would have been able to make the needed compromises with the Israelis to the end of establishing the new State of Palestine.

An internationally recognized border between the two future states exists. Everyone recognizes it except Israel. For more than twenty years, Israel has been supporting the establishment and growth of Jewish settlements on the Palestinian side of the border. It seems clear to me that Israel's policy has been to agree in principle to the creation of a Palestinian state while all the time creating facts on the ground (i.e., new settlements) that effectively move the border to constrict the Palestinian territory into an ever smaller area.

If President Bush is serious about establishing a two-state solution for the Holy Land, let him declare that the internationally recognized border is to be the boundary between Israel and Palestine. Any Jewish settlements on the Palestinian side of the border will be located in and belong to Palestine. It is up to the settlers to decide whether they want to stay or move out. If they decide to stay, they will have to prove to the Palestinian government that they have legitimate titles to the land occupied by their settlements.

The United States should recognize the Hamas government in Gaza as a legitimate government that is representative of the people of Gaza. The unification of Gaza with the rest of Palestine (i.e., the West Bank) will have to be managed by the Palestinians themselves. Israel and the United States (and the rest of the world) should not insist on a public statement by the Hamas leaders of Israel's "right to exist." Israel does exist and will continue to exist no matter what Hamas thinks or says. We must treat Hamas as a political movement with a few nutty ideas. We've dealt with such movements before without trying to isolate or demonize them.

How does one go about defining a "right" to exist? Some religious Jews insist that Jews have a divine right to reclaim the land of Israel described in the Bible or Torah. God gave them that land (after a battle with the previous inhabitants). Some religious Muslims insist that the Holy Land is WAQF, a word that means that once an area has converted to Islam it must not be allowed to revert. Neither land nor individuals can leave Islam once they accept it. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim. I give equal credence to each of the two conflicting claims for the Holy Land.

By the way, Osama bin Laden, being a very religious Muslim, claims that Spain and Portugal should be returned to Muslim occupation and rule.


Sunday, March 23, 2008


About Grieving

Following the death of my wife last November I have been attending a weekly grieving session sponsored by the hostice group that cared for my wife during the last two months of her life. Other members of the grieving session, or group, have also lost their husbands or wives during the past year. I find that crying is a normal expression for all the group members. Some cry more readily than others.

One man told me (I don't know whether he is a member of the grieving group or a friend in some other way) that he has placed photos of his late wife on all the walls of his house. I've thought about doing something like that. I might have an enlargement of a favorite picture of my wife on the wall next to my computer. Perhaps I will do that some day. Right now I am still in the stage of grieving that I cry when I see her picture. When I reach the stage where I will smile with pleasure when I look at her picture, then I will mount here on the wall. I do not know now whether that day will ever come. Perhaps I will always cry a little when I think of her.

For me, grieving did not start when she died. It started nearly a year earlier. One day about a year ago I took her to our favorite restaurant for dinner. We had been eating there occasionally for the past ten or more years. As time went on, she had less and less appetite and I found it more and more difficult to choose food that she could and would eat. (By the way, the restaurant was a buffet.) Finally, about a year ago, we went to that restaurant for the last time. On that occasion, I couldn't find anything that she would eat. I think she may have eaten a spoon or two of ice cream. Toward the end, she preferred sweet things to eat. I realized then that we could never again eat together in a restaurant. I also realized that our time together was limited and that the end was not far off. I hoped that perhaps we could still have two years together. We had eight months.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Clinton's Ads

Since I present myself to you, my reader(s), as an Old Democrat, it's time I weighed in with an opinion or two about the presidential campaign. This morning I received, by e-mail, an advertisement for Hillary Clinton. Here's part of the text of the ad:

Dear Friend, The Obama campaign is already on the air with their first ad in Pennsylvania, putting their fundraising advantage to work. They're going to spend every dollar they've got to end this race in Pennsylvania, and we can't let that happen. In Texas and Ohio, your incredible support kept us competitive, and today this race is close thanks to what you did for Hillary. Now the Obama campaign is going to do everything they can to try to beat Hillary in Pennsylvania. They're going to try to outspend us 3-1 on the air -- and their first ads are already up and running. We cannot let them have that advantage. Hillary needs your help now to level the playing field in Pennsylvania and beyond.

The ad goes on to request a donation to the campaign for Hillary Clinton for President.

Now, I have no problem with political ads that ask me to send money. Sometimes I send money; usually, I don't. I have a problem with this ad in that it implicitly attacks Senator Obama for outspending Senator Clinton. My own opinion is that these two candidates already get so much free publicity from the newspapers and television and radio news that they could just as well continue to campaign without spending another dime on advertising themselves. To me, the ad just cited seems a bit hysterical. The message could be interpreted as "That (bad) Obama is outspending me in an effort to BUY the election. Don't let him get away with it. Send money."

It is sad that Clinton and Obama, and particularly Clinton are so intent on defeating each other, that is, each one trying to defeat the other, that they ignore the real enemy: John McCain. The important thing for us Democrats is not the choice between Clinton and Obama. The important thing is to prevent the election of Republican McCain to succeed Bush next year and continue the ruinous Bush program of wearing out our military force in Iraq, continuing to pile up the national debt, ruining the environment, ruining the economy, and so on. Clinton and Obama would do the Democratic Party and the Nation a great service if they would stop campaigning against each other and start campaigning against John McCain and the Republicans.

If the Democrats can refrain from shooting themselves in the foot by continuing this pointless campaign between Obama and Clinton, they are in position to win the Presidential election this fall with anyone - even Alben Barclay, Truman's Vice President, who dropped dead nearly sixty years ago.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Commentary on a Remark by John McCain

Recently the Presidential candidates, McCain, Clinton, and Obama, have been campaigning in Ohio and Texas. Economic issues seem most important in the voters' minds. In Ohio voters are down on NAFTA and similar free trade agreements because they see that manufacturing jobs have left Ohio and have gone to China, India, Indonesia, and other low-wage countries. In Texas voters are high on NAFTA because the agreement has opened markets for agricultural products in Mexico, other central American countries, and countries farther away. Of course American agricultural products are selling in those countries at prices that the local farmers can't meet. Many farmers have had to leave their farms and travel to cities and ultimately to the United States, mostly illegally, in search of work that will pay them money to support their families.

So, is NAFTA a good deal for the United States? Some politicians say it is, overall. Some economists say that free trade agreements have created more new jobs in this country than the number of jobs that have been lost.

It is interesting to compare the Democratic and Republican responses to the charge that NAFTA has cost jobs in industrial States like Ohio. The Democratic candidates express an intention to renegotiate the NAFTA agreements to put in requirements about working conditions, fair wages, environmental protection, and the like. The Republican candidate, Sen. McCain, urges the taking down of still more barriers to free trade and opines that with all barriers removed American workers and American industries can compete successfully with workers and industries anywhere else in the world. He speaks of the innovation that Americans introduce in a manufacturing process to improve both the efficiency and the economy of the process.

Most of the industries that have left the United States and have become established in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, India, Honduras, and the like went through an innovation process about a hundred years ago. Today when I go to a store to buy a shirt I find that it is made in one of those countries. An American textile firm that pays its workers an American salary of, say, twelve dollars an hour plus benefits, can not compete with a factory in China or India or Cambodia in which workers are paid five dollars a day with no benefits.

In fact, I did buy shirts today. They were made in Sri Lanka and India. They cost an average of twelve dollars apiece. I went on to Trader Joe's and bought some raisins. The information on the package indicated that they were grown and harvested near Fresno, California. There were also some raisins from Chile. The Chilean raisins and the Californian raisins all cost less than three dollars a pound. We compete very well on agricultural products; we lose our shirts if we try to compete on textile products. Of course, agricultural workers are paid less in the United States than workers in shirt factories - if there are any shirt factories left in the country.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008


An Uncertainty Principle in Governance

You may think, from the title to this opinion, that I have discovered some new and important feature of government. It is not new. What I am going to discuss was well-known to the 17th and 18th century political theorists who provided the thinking behind our federal constitution.

Let be introduce the subject by relating a frequent e-mail argument I have had with my conservative friends H and R and my "moderate" friend S. In particular H has been eager to justify the use of an interrogation technique called "water boarding." He writes that the technique has extracted useful information from several terrorist suspects and implies that the information has been used to foil plans by Al Qaeda to stage another attack on the United States. This attack would have been, I presume, as disastrous at the destruction of tall buildings by flying commercial airplanes into them.

H cites this beneficial result from the use of water boarding and asks whether S and I would condone giving the President the power to authorize its use in future interrogations. S and I have pointed out that we are skeptical that the technique yields reliable information. A torture victim is apt to say anything to please his tormentor. The information provided may or may not be true. H asserts without proof that the technique has indeed yielded useful information.

In recent e-letters to the group (H, R, S, and myself) I have stated the existence of an uncertainty principle that requires us to find a balance between complete security and complete freedom. If we want complete security, we then must permit the President (i.e., the government) to use any and all torture methods in interrogations. We must also give the President the authority to conduct warrantless wire taps to listen in on private conversation to find terrorists who otherwise would escape detection.

I argue that to give the President that much power would enable him to spy on and frame any political opponent. An unscrupulous or ambitious President would be able to establish himself and his cronies in power with no limits on what they could do. Our liberties would vanish. In order to prevent the emergence of a fascist state, we have to place limits on the President. The price of maintaining our liberties is the likelihood of other terrorist attacks that will not be detected in time to stop them. We are governed by other imperfect humans, not by Thomas Jefferson's angels. The imperfection, the corruption, the dishonesty of some public officials requires that we limit the things they can do. The result is that we live in freedom but not in safety. That is the uncertainty principle of governance.

This is not a new idea. What surprises me is that my conservative friends are willing to trust "big government" to torture suspects and listen to private phone conversations and not use the power to discredit political opponents but are not willing to trust the same government to run a program to provide affordable health care for everyone.

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